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  • The Big Easy

    For a couple at the epicenter of the city’s social pulse, hotelier Sean MacPherson and nightlife doyenne Rachelle Hruska-MacPherson take a refreshingly laidback and joyous approach to family life.

    By Christine Wei

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    What does it take to become a successful and happily married power couple in NYC? Spend any amount of time with Rachelle Hruska-MacPherson and Sean MacPherson and you’ll be inclined to think—as paradoxical as this might sound—that the answer is as much about adopting an easygoing outlook on life as it is about being passionately ambitious.

    Despite being nearly seven months pregnant with her second child, Rachelle is composed and cheerful when she arrives for our cover shoot in early September at the newly opened Marlton Hotel—her husband’s property awash in old world elegance and understated modern touches on West 8th Street. She’s the intrepid founder of Guest of a Guest, an online magazine that gives NYC denizens a glimpse into their hometown’s most exclusive happenings and tips them toward the hottest things to do and see.

    “Our tagline is ‘people, places, parties.’ Our millions of photos that live on the site are hopefully giving our users the opportunity to feel like they’re part of this community of people that’s sort of separate but symbiotic,” Rachelle explains. “I think we have the best calendar in the city, but besides just covering events, we also like to do a lot of interviews with local tastemakers.”

    The fair-haired Nebraskan transplant speaks with a quiet confidence that comes only from truly loving what you do as she discusses how her online business launched in 2007 as a simple hobby. “I was working in finance uptown, but all of my friends were downtown in creative jobs, so I was really curious about everything that was happening downtown,” she says. “There wasn’t a thought in my mind of monetizing it—we’re trying to monetize it now—but when I was a 24-year-old just writing, it was just pure.”

    It was this fresh perspective and genuine voice that had captured the attention of readers around the city, a quality Rachelle still maintains with the help of a crop of new contributors with varied perspectives. Seven years later, the site has expanded to include L.A., D.C., the Hamptons, and global editions of its lively nightlife coverage.

    Rachelle’s husband, Sean MacPherson, has a lot of cachet himself as a classy tastemaker with a golden touch. The proprietor behind a host of popular boutique hotels and chic eateries in the city (and in Montauk and L.A.), he’s launched the iconic likes of The Bowery, Maritime, and Jane Hotels—not to mention the Waverly Inn, a culinary mecca for the media and cultural elite that he co-owns with Vanity Fair Editor-in-Chief Graydon Carter.

    The Marlton Hotel is his latest labor of love, and when Sean arrives on scene with their almost-2-year-old son Maxwell in tow, he’s nothing like the snazzy hospitality honcho one might have in mind. The tall, lean Malibu native is at once conversational and deliberative, open to sharing but never self-serious.

    “What I like about 8th Street is that it’s a little abandoned and derelict, a little bit how The Bowery was,” he says of the potential he’d seen in The Marlton, taking the time to choose his words carefully. “It’s neither here nor there, which gives it a more open canvas.” He savors the property’s storied past, with a list of residents who include Beat Generation writer Jack Keruoac and Andy Warhol’s shooter Valerie Solanas.

    Two years after Sean acquired the hotel, The Marlton now glows with what he cheekily likes to call a “Honey, I shrunk the Ritz” vibe. On the day of our cover shoot, construction is still being done and final décor touches are still in the works, but the cozy lobby beckons with rich wood paneling and guests have begun to stay in gilded rooms, furnished with luxuriously plush headboards and framed by intricate wall moldings.

    As with all his other properties, every tasteful design decision for this hotel was a personal and deliberate one. “We call it a ‘baby grand’ hotel because it’s an old building—it’s been there for over a hundred years—and it has very small rooms, but the idea was to make it a very elegant place,” Sean says. “The hotel is reasonably priced but furnished in a very high-end way. It’s accessible luxury.”

    It takes very little time to see that together Rachelle and Sean make up a delightfully open-minded and creative couple—the kind who have become New Yorkers by choice and really enjoy the little serendipities of city life. And it’s an attitude that spills over into their parenting.

    “I don’t think we over-prepared [as parents], so we’re very comfortable with taking things as they come. Because you can’t plan,” Rachelle says. “The one thing I will say about New York is that everyone’s hyper-successful, so you have a lot of people who are just hyper go-get-y and are super ambitious. Sean has to remind me that it’s all going to work out, and he does a really good job at that.”

    “Both Rachelle and I believe that we can influence things but not determine them,” Sean adds. “We’re accepting that things don’t always go as expected—and there’s beauty in that.”

    Their zen-like approach is buttressed by a strong mutual commitment to their partnership. Sean wryly explains: “Rachelle and I are 18.5 years apart, and due to my delay in maturing—”

    “I’m the old one in the relationship,” Rachelle confirms.

    “—we entered this at a perfect time for both of us. We were all doing it by choice; it wasn’t like either one of us felt that we had to get married and have children on a schedule,” Sean says. “It’s collaboration. It’s not a competition, it’s not a coercion…”

    Of course, all this doesn’t mean that the couple sees eye-to-eye on every matter. A laugh slips into Rachelle’s voice as she sounds off on their wardrobe preferences. “Sean loves dressing Maxwell like a punk rock skater, so everything I buy he ends up tearing off the sleeves, and I prefer more preppy. But the mix of the two is kind of genius, and I think that as long as we can both give and take, we’re going to be okay.”

    Like many couples who hail from very different backgrounds, the duo brings the best of their own upbringings into their new family.

    “When we were in Malibu, it was two hours past Maxwell’s nap and Sean was on the beach playing with him and they’re just covered in mud and sand,” Rachelle recalls. “For Sean, it’s really important that he has that with his son; that’s what he had with his mom. For me, I really want to have family dinner every night, probably because I had it myself, as a time for us to all connect as a family.”

    One thing that they’ve firmly agreed on, however, is that New York City is an incredible place to raise a child. Though the family spends most weekends out in Montauk when they’re not traveling, they’ve made the West Village their home base.

    “I love that it’s so convenient, that there’s so much social interaction, intellectual opportunity,” Sean enthuses in his even way. “I grew up in Malibu and I’d be very scared to raise my kids in the suburbs. Kids get bored and they get up to things and they have to drive…so I’m super excited about raising a child here. New York at its best exposes one to every walk of life. That’s unbeatable education.”

    One of the biggest surprises that struck Rachelle when she moved to New York a decade ago is still the aspect of the city that delights her the most.

    “New York almost feels like more of a community than anywhere else I’ve lived. I know who my neighbors are, we run into people on the street every day—that would never happen as regularly [in Nebraska],” she says. “It’s very much the neighborhood I’ve always wanted for my children.”

    New York also brought them together for the first time, at a mutual friend’s party. As Rachelle tells it, they subsequently got together to network and discuss business—though Sean’s account is a little different.

    “I didn’t think it was a business meeting. I thought this woman was stalking me,” he deadpans.

    “Are you serious? That’s not very nice to say,” Rachelle says, admonishing him lightly.

    “…in a good way,” Sean finishes.

    “I definitely thought it was a business meeting,” Rachelle retorts.

    Whatever their original intent, one hour became five, paving the way for a whirlwind romance, a dreamy Hamptons wedding 1.5 years later, and the family they have today. “I always knew I wanted children, and I wasn’t necessarily planning on it happening right away, but I know the moment I knew I wanted a family with Sean,” Rachelle says.

    These days, Rachelle and Sean find great pleasure in taking Maxwell to walk the High Line, run rampant in the parks along the Westside Highway, and explore the city’s many restaurants and museums. “He oftentimes falls asleep in them,” Sean admits. “The museums are really more for us.”

    Of course, there’s always hopping on the wooden swing that sways from their living room ceiling. Sean had installed it as an homage to legendary early-20th century architect Stanford White, who designed the Washington Square Park arch and who also had a swing in his apartment. “I didn’t think of it this way [then], but it’s hopefully emblematic of our take on life that things don’t need to be so formal or regimented,” Sean says. “There’s no reason why you can’t have a swing in the house.

    Maxwell seems to have gotten the message. “He’s becoming more of a rascal,” Rachelle says. “We’ve started calling him ‘Dennis the Menace’—because he bears a striking resemblance to the character in both looks and mannerisms.”

    Soaking up the joys of toddler life apparently includes a penchant for drawing on the walls, too. “The more I tell him to stop, the more he laughs,” Sean says. “I try very hard to be stern, but it’s virtually impossible for me to not [laugh] along with him.”

    Rachelle is due on November 15th, and soon enough Maxwell will have to begin adjusting to life as a big brother. “We show him photos of himself as a baby, but he has no idea what’s about to hit him…” Rachelle says, amusement twinkling in her eyes.

    Sean nods. Right now it’s all about Maxwell, and Maxwell really likes it that way.”

    When you see how at ease and in sync Rachelle and Sean are with each other, you can’t help but wonder what their secret formula is for keeping it light and loving, especially given the demands of their work lives. Sean, for one, believes it’s easier when everyone’s working toward the same goal, whether or not you know what that is.

    We talk about work but we also talk about our lives,” he says, “and it’s all kind of the same—meaning we’re thinking about something that’s work but happens to be part of the giant puzzle of life.”

    Rachelle points to their upcoming London trip as an example of how they roll; what started out as a research project for Sean’s new restaurant at the Marlton has morphed into a joint business trip for Guest of a Guest as well as a family getaway with Maxwell to visit friends. In other words, their union is a bit of a work-life hybrid (to a point). “We both have a lot of ambition, we both have control of our own companies… I love hearing at the end of the day what Sean’s doing and hopefully he loves hearing from me.”

    Come late fall and early winter, they’ll have to coordinate their busy schedules with more skill and patience than ever. As the new baby arrives, Rachelle will be juggling a full redesign of Guest of a Guest, launching a mobile app with which users can contribute to G of G’s events coverage, and expanding internationally beyond the site’s four stateside locales. At the same time, Sean has his eyes set on opening The Marlton’s restaurant sometime this month, after which the hotel will formally open its doors. Oh, and he’ll also be opening another property, The Ludlow, at the end of the year in the Lower East Side.

    The city’s most laidback power couple seems ready, willing, and hopeful about integrating their next child into their big adventure without slowing down—or at least not by too much, anyway. Sean has a way of describing his days with Maxwell now that we expect will soon be fully applicable to their new baby-to-be: “I like the idea of him growing up just being with us. He’s on our team. We enjoy having the life that we’ve always had and just bringing him along with us.”


    Photos by Karen Haberberg Photography
    Styled by Monica Cotto
    Hair and makeup by Kim Baker for Glamazon Beauty

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